November 30, 2006

Democrats: "With Planning And Effort, We Believe We Can Stop Our Unfortunate Winning Streak"

It's good to see that even before the new congress is sworn in, the Democrats are exploring ways to return to the minority as soon as possible:

Raising retirement age or reducing benefits can't be ruled out if the Social Security system is to be saved from going bust, Rep. Charles Rangel said yesterday.

"All of these things are on the table to find some way to make certain that Social Security is solvent," said Rangel, who is poised to take control of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

Rangel added, "While this would be deeply unpopular with most Americans as well as unnecessary, I know a few people who'd think it was really great." Rangel then reached into his pocket and produced a small graph:

Contributions To Charles Rangel, 2006 Election Cycle

This part of the story's good, too:

Rangel (D-Harlem) discussed the fate of Social Security—which some have estimated will have a cash-flow problem as soon as 2017 and run out of money by 2040—during a Manhattan breakfast talk sponsored by Crain's New York.

Yes: 21 words, three mistakes, for an impressive one mistake every seven words ratio.

1. These dates don't come from "some people," but rather from the intermediate projection of the Social Security Trustees Report.

2. The SS report doesn't project Social Security will have a "cash-flow problem" starting in 2017. Rather, that's when SS will begin redeeming its Trust Fund. SS will no more have a cash-flow problem in 2017 than Bill Gates does when he cashes government bonds.

3. The SS doesn't project Social Security will "run out of money" in 2040. Rather, that's the date it projects the Trust Fund will be exhausted. However, SS will still have gigantic amounts of tax revenue coming in—enough to pay higher benefits than people get today, though not enough (according to this projection) to cover promised benefits, which increase in real terms over time.

Anyway, I'd thought the elections would chasten our political class enough they would give us a few months respite before they reopened their Wonderchest Of Horrible Ideas. Clearly I thought wrong.

SEE ALSO: Dean Baker on what NPR's Marketplace says "everyone" thinks about Social Security.

(Rangel story via David Sirota)

November 29, 2006

Thomas Friedman's Writing Finally Compared To Bestiality

I try not to read anything by Thomas Friedman, because his writing tends to make me wish I were dead. But Chris Floyd was man enough to read his latest column, and had this reaction:

This, ladies and gentleman, is what passes for Establishment thought on the most respected newspaper in the land. This complete and utter moral perversion -- like unto an act of sexual congress with the beasts of the field -- is now the conventional wisdom of the chattering classes, the "public intellectuals," and the powerful elites whom they so cravenly serve. This blood-flecked drivel -- a precise echo of the genocidal fury being voiced on what once was once considered the lunatic fringes of the far right -- is now at the heart of American political life.

In the rest of his post, Chris also has some less positive things to say about Friedman.

More Grim Jokes

Hilzoy is funny.

In response to Dennis, I admit I too am just about at the end of my joke-making abilities. But I feel we should go down fighting.

Productivity Up In Death Squad Sector Of Iraqi Economy

Good news!

Every day it seemed more Iraqis woke up to death threats tossed into their carports. At first the death threats were handwritten, but as kidnappings became a daily occurrence, the kidnappers grew more brazen and organized. The terrorists now issue generic, computerized threats with the organization's name as letterhead. Only the name of the victim is written by hand.

I'm pleased to see this leap forward in death squad productivity. But there's still the drag on economic efficiency of writing the victims' names in by hand. The solution is clear: tax cuts for death squads, which will allow them to make the capital investment to fully automate their death squadding.

And if that doesn't do the trick, we should add Iraq to NAFTA, thereby lowering the barriers to trade in death squads, enlarging the death squad market and creating needed death squad economies of scale.

November 28, 2006

I Look Forward To Posting This Seventy-Four More Times Between Now And January, 2009

March 6, 2003:

Q What can you say tonight, sir, to the sons and the daughters of the Americans who served in Vietnam to assure them that you will not lead this country down a similar path in Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT: That's a great question. Our mission is clear in Iraq. Should we have to go in, our mission is very clear: disarmament... it's very clear what we intend to do. And our mission won't change. Our mission is precisely what I just stated.

November 28, 2006:

Tomorrow, I'm going to travel to Jordan where I will meet with the Prime Minister of Iraq...We'll continue to be flexible, and we'll make the changes necessary to succeed. But there's one thing I'm not going to do: I'm not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete...

The war on terror we fight today is more than a military conflict; it is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century. And in this struggle, we can accept nothing less than victory for our children and our grandchildren.

Other Things That May Or May Not Be Happening In Iraq

Our president:

But Mr. Bush, who heads to Jordan on Wednesday for two days of meetings with Mr. Maliki, dismissed a question about whether a civil war has indeed erupted.

"There’s all kinds of speculation about what may or may not be happening," he said...

Here's a list of things people are speculating may or may not be happening in Iraq:

1. A vicious, sectarian civil war caused by a brutal occupation

2. All IEDs suddenly transformed into delicious lollipops

3. Muqtada al-Sadr announcing he's leaving Iraqi politics to become president of the National Organization for Women

4. The return of John Lennon and George Harrison from the dead, followed by a Beatles reunion concert in Baghdad which will end with the world's biggest sing-a-long in which all 27 million Iraqis join voices to croon "All You Need Is Love"

Yes, there's all kinds of speculation, and all of these things are just as likely as any other.

I, EatMyBallSack

If you're not using Bug Me Not, I highly recommend it. It makes reading online news a much easier experience.

Plus, you never know what online identify you're going to don next. Each day—each site!—is an opportunity to become someone new.

What I especially like about this is that it can be read in several different ways. For instance, the NY Times may be welcoming a visitor named "eatmyballsack." Or perhaps the NY Times is issuing an invitation.

November 27, 2006

The More Things Don't Change, The More They Stay Exactly The Same

This is from a 1968 NY Review of Books article by I.F. Stone:

...the Democratic party for the first time in its history did indeed campaign against McKinley in 1900 on an anti-imperialist platform, but they were "at a disadvantage," as Robert Beisner's study of the anti-imperialist movement shows, "because they had bellowed for war in 1898 as loudly as anyone." William Jennings Bryan, the party's foremost anti-imperialist leader, "first volunteered to fight in Cuba, then declared himself an opponent of expansion, and finally urged Senate approval of the peace treaty" by which we annexed the Philippines and set out on the course we are still pursuing...

The Leftist Media Is Everywhere


Well-known religious Zionist rabbi Yisrael Rozen is advocating unsupervised Jewish militias as a solution to the Qassam rocket fire in the South...

"The eternal response to terror is counter-terror, an eye for an eye," wrote Rozen, who heads the Zomet Institute in the Gush Etzion settlement of Alon Shvut, which addresses issues related to Judaism and modern life...

Rozen wrote he would not argue with those who claim the suggestion is ineffective, "primarily because of the leftist underground organization in the media."

You know, I wish people like Rabbi Rozen would be honest about their biogtry. Rather than talking in code about the "leftist media," he should say what he really means: the Jewish media.

November 25, 2006

The Salvador Option

Britain's Channel 4 has run a long reporting piece about Iraq's Shia death squads, available here.

As you watch it, remember this was in fact planned by the U.S. as the Salvador Option:

"The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists," [a military source] said. "From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation."

Also remember Dick Cheney's endorsement of the Salvador Option for Iraq during the 2004 Vice Presidential debate:

Twenty years ago we had a similar situation in El Salvador. We had -- guerrilla insurgency controlled roughly a third of the country, 75,000 people dead, and we held free elections. I was there as an observer on behalf of the Congress...

The power of that concept is enormous. And it will apply in Afghanistan, and it will apply as well in Iraq.

November 24, 2006

Text Of Australian Memo

Wednesday night the Australian media reported that in early 2002 their ambassador to the U.N. was telling the Australian company AWB that a U.S. attack on Iraq was "inevitable." The information appears in the minutes from a February 27, 2002 AWB board meeting. The minutes are listed on this page from the Cole Inquiry website; you can download them directly here (pdf).

Here's the relevant text, from pages 10-11, with my emphasis added. A screenshot of the memo itself is below the fold. (AWB minutes are printed in Helvetica!)

AWB Limited

Board Meeting No. 48
Date: Wednesday 27 February 2002

Middle East situation

The Chairman met with the Australian Ambassador to the UN, John Dauth, who gave a synopsis of the current conflict in the Middle East. With regard to Iran, the Ambassador noted that, despite the President's State of the Union address and reference to the "Axis of Evil," most acknowledge that US/Iran relations are at an all time high. Accordingly, there appears to be an unofficial agreement between the two countries that despite the language of the President, these comments should be seen as for domestic consumption only. The Ambassador's view was that it was unlikely that the war against terrorism currently being waged in Afghanistan would follow on to Iran in the current political environment.

However, with regard to Iraq, the Ambassador stated that he believed that US military action to depose Saddam Hussein was inevitable and that at this time the Australian Government would support and participate in such action. The Ambassador believed that the Iraqis grossly underestimated the US' reaction to September 11 (with the consequent military response in Afghanistan) and that Iraq's request to re-negotiate UN weapons inspectors was a direct result of their nervousness about US action. The Ambassador believed that the latest "olive branch" from the Iraqis was likely to stave off US action 12 to 18 months but that some military action was inevitable.

The Ambassador felt that engagement in Iraq would be similar to that currently being undertaken in Afghanistan (ie. heavy use of air support followed by deployment of ground troops). He undertook to ensure that AWB was given as much warning as would be possible under such circumstances but noted that in these instances often the Australian Government had little notification. However, he did note that Secretary Powell was running this campaign in a similar way that he ran the Gulf conflict which was to plan meticulously and not rush into conflict.

November 23, 2006

Happy Pentagon Thanksgiving

I hope everyone has enjoyed a good Thanksgiving and now, like me, is quickly sinking into a coma.

In other news, I'm pleased to see we're finally getting a higher class of visitor around here. As you see below, earlier today someone from the Pentagon dropped by. And wonderfully enough, he/she got here by searching Google for shia arc...which led here.

I also note that post is the #1 Google entry out of 154,000 for shia arc. As always, it's nice to be noticed, but I'm not sure this is the best way to organize the world's information.

Here's Something To Be Thankful For Today

If George Bush had already decided to invade Iraq by February 2002, who do you think should have been told about it? I ask because apparently everyone on earth knew except regular Americans.

Everyone? you wonder. Including Australian wheat company executives?

Yes, including Australian wheat company executives:

A SENIOR diplomat tipped off wheat exporter AWB a year before the Iraq war that Australia would join the US-led invasion, new documents show...

The documents, released by the Cole inquiry yesterday, show Australia's then UN ambassador John Dauth revealed the Howard Government's position to former AWB chairman Trevor Flugge.

Mr Dauth briefed Mr Flugge in New York in February 2002 - 13 months before the invasion - and the details appear in minutes of AWB's February 27 board meeting tendered to the inquiry.

"The ambassador stated that he believed that US military action to depose Saddam Hussein was inevitable and that at this time the Australian Government would support and participate in such action,'' the minutes said...

"The ambassador believed that the latest olive branch from the Iraqis was likely to stave off US action (for) 12 to 18 months but that some military action was inevitable.''

UPDATE: The actual text of the memo is here.

November 22, 2006

For Excellence In Internetting

The award goes to:

• Dennis Perrin on Michael Richards and the reactions thereto.

• No More Mr. Nice Blog for If I Helped Turn Iraq into an Open-Air Abbatoir for Human Beings, Here's How It Happened by Douglas Feith, and more!

• Max Sawicky on being moved to profanity by the Washington Post's execrable coverage of Social Security.

• Arianna Huffington on the sad-but-real fear that runs Hollywood.

I just hope this will bring some much needed attention to the awardees, particularly Ms. Huffington, who's a wonderful writer but all her career has suffered from a crippling shyness.

Kate's Dream TV Show

What are the ingredients for Kate's dream TV show?

Plus, more about Kate.

And: Kate punches Daniel Dennett (with words).

November 21, 2006

Finally Someone Has The Guts To Tell The Truth

"Yes, the vast majority of global orgasm coordinations have been firmly rooted in San Francisco."

On another subject, I just saw Match Point for the first time. One of the people with whom I watched it observed she was enjoying it a great deal, but couldn't tell whether that was because it was a good movie or because seeing Woody Allen's ten previous movies had been like having your nose sanded off, and Match Point at least wasn't that. In other words, Match Point might be like the blessed silence when a car alarm twenty feet from your bedroom finally stops going off at 3 a.m. You love it, but because it's the absence of distressing sound rather than the presence of beautiful music.

When she said this I realized I was experiencing exactly the same confusion. I truly did like Match Point, but I have no idea whether it was a good movie or simply not a nose-sandingly bad one. I hope someone can help me out here.

America, America, God Shed His Crazy Grace On Thee

I have a question.

It's this:


My calm, measured inquiry is prompted by a new NY Times op-ed by Mark Moyar, a professor at the Marine Corps University. According to Moyar, it turns out Vietnam and Iraq are quite similar, but in a good way:

The United States faced a very similar crisis a half-century ago. In 1955, the pro-American government of Ngo Dinh Diem sought to disband militias that belonged to religious sects, analogous to the Shiite militias in Iraq today...

Through political acumen and force of personality, Diem gained the full cooperation of the National Army and used it to subdue the sects...

Diem went on to become a highly effective national war leader. When, in August 1963, he suppressed challenges to his authority from another religious group, he again experienced an upsurge in prestige...

South Vietnam’s history recommends the pursuit of two objectives that American officials are now urging upon Prime Minister Maliki: subduing the Shiite militias and transferring control of the police from Shiite partisans to Iraqi nationalists...

If we pull back our troops temporarily and let Mr. Maliki deal with Iraq’s problems using Iraqi forces, we will be able to determine more quickly whether he can save his country as Diem saved his in 1955.

Now, I'm no expert on Vietnam. But...even I could guess there was something a little wrong with this analogy:

• Before France colonized it, Vietnam was mostly Buddhist.

• France brought Catholicism. A minority converted, and in the standard colonial pattern this minority were most of the ones who ran things for the French. Thus, Catholicism was the religion of a disliked elite.

• Ngo Dinh Diem was Catholic.

• Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki is Shia.

• The militias which Diem "sought to disband" in 1955 therefore were not "analogous to the Shiite militias in Iraq today." Why? BECAUSE THEY WEREN'T CATHOLIC.

• Again, Diem was Catholic. In fact, he was Extra-Catholic; his brother was an archbishop. But the main sects he attacked in 1955 were Cao Dai (Syncretic), Hoa Hao (Buddhist), and a criminal organization called Binh Xuyen. (As the op-ed says, Diem "suppressed challenges to his authority from another religious group" in 1963. The other religious group was Buddhist.)

• Again, Maliki is Shia. Thus, even if he had the power to crush the Shia militias (he surely doesn't), he wouldn't want to. He would be crushing his own base of support.

The op-ed is crazy and evil in about nineteen other ways too. Spencer Ackerman touches on a few here. But just the problem I identify should be enough to disqualify this guy from teaching anyone anything anywhere. Moreover, even if the crazy-filter failed to catch him before he got tenure, in a non-insane country the country's most prestigious newspaper wouldn't be printing something like this. In a non-insane country, the most prestigious newspaper would be wiping its prestigious ass with it.

But here in America, the NY Times will not only publish something calling for our puppet to shed rivers of Iraqi blood, they don't even care it makes no sense whatsoever.

God, we're in trouble.

MORE EXCELLENT CRAZY: The leader of the Hoa Hao militia was Ba Cut. As the Pentagon Papers record, in 1956 Diem had him beheaded in public.

Since Mark Moyar believes the situations in Vietnam and Iraq are "analogous," I guess his plan involves some future public beheadings. I think we can all agree Iraq hasn't had enough of those.

November 20, 2006

We Must Recognize Jim Henley's Contribution To The Proletarian Struggle

When Alberto Gonzales said this on Friday --

Some people will argue nothing could justify the government being able to intercept conversations like the ones the Program targets. Instead of seeing the government protecting the country, they see it as on the verge of stifling freedom.

But this view is shortsighted. Its definition of freedom - one utterly divorced from civic responsibility - is superficial and is itself a grave threat to the liberty and security of the American people.

-- I thought, well, that sounds exactly like a speech by a member of the Soviet Politburo. I was going to go dig up some appropriate comparisons, but it turns out Jim Henley has already done so. Let's nominate him for an Order of the Badge of Honor.

November 19, 2006

Why Make Up New Lies When You Still Have Some Perfectly Good Old Ones Sitting Around?

I'm pleased to see Alberto Gonzales is still trotting out the same old crap about the NSA surveillance program. Here he is at an event yesterday:

The TSP ["Terrorist Surveillance Program"] is lawful. The president established the Program under both the authority given to him by Congress when it passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and by his authority under the Constitution.

Dick Cheney made the same case on Friday:

We're confident because the Terrorist Surveillance Program rests on firm legal ground. The Joint Authorization to Use Military Force, passed by Congress after 9/11, provides more than enough latitude for these activities. Therefore the warrant requirements of the FISA law do not apply to this wartime measure.

What I like about this is that new lies on their part would require us to figure out exactly how they're lying. Whereas if you want to understand this old lie, you can just read this old article of mine.

November 18, 2006

When Will This Nightmare End?

Imad Khadduri, the Iraqi physicist who escaped to Canada in 1998 and did everything he could to expose the Bush administration's lies before the invasion, writes from Amman:

Yesterday, I received an Email from a friend citing a very touching obituary for a young Iraqi boy by the name of Ali who died of leukemia in his family’s self imposed exile in Jordan. It was written by one of his teachers and published in Al Rai newspaper.

I wrote back to my friend to express my sympathy and told him that I wonder how many Iraqi Alis are dying without a word said about them. I did not know then that only few hours later I would have my Ali to mourn.

Ali is the nephew of my wife...But he was much more than that to me. He was like my own son who kept my company for eight years in Baghdad when my own sons were away. He was indeed a son, a friend, assistant and a delight to be with...He was great in dealing with children and loved so much my granddaughter Mariam who in return loved him and wanted him to be around as much as she wanted her parents...

Ali was killed in Baghdad on Thursday, November 7 by the Americans or their protégés, the national guards who were manning a close check point...

Does anybody doubt that there isn’t a home in Iraq now which is not suffering the loss or injury of a loved one? When will this nightmare end? When will we regain our country and see the back of this occupation?

The rest is here.

For a few of Khadduri's pre-war writings, see "Iraq's Nuclear Non-Capability" (November 21, 2002) and "The Nuclear Bomb Hoax" (February 7, 2003).

Why Do "They" Hate Us? Is It Somehow Connected To The Way We Cut Off Their Limbs With Chainsaws?

Before the 9/11 attacks came along, I used to work with groups trying to get the U.S. to stop funding Colombia's right-wing paramilitaries. The pretense, of course, was we were funding the Colombian military in their heroic struggle in the War on Drugs. The reality, that the paramilitaries were run by the Colombian government to murder anyone to the left of Elliot Abrams, is finally being acknowledged:

The government of President lvaro Uribe is being shaken by its most serious political crisis yet, as details emerge about members of Congress who collaborated with right-wing death squads to spread terror and exert political control across Colombia's Caribbean coast...All are from the state of Sucre, where the attorney general's office has been exhuming bodies from mass graves...

It's difficult to overstate the level of human depravity exhibited by the paramilitaries. One of their favorite techniques is to kill people with chainsaws:

"The Chainsaw Massacre is not a film in Colombia," said government ombudsman Eduardo Cifuentes, referring to the April 12 [2001] paramilitary massacre in Alto Naya, 650 kilometers (404 miles) southeast of [Bogota]...

It left some 128 people dead, including 40 in Alto Naya, according to official reports quoted by Cifuentes in an interview with AFP...

Around 400 paramilitaries took part in this "caravan of death" against civilians accused of supporting leftist guerrillas, Cifuentes said in his Bogota office.

"The remains of a woman were exhumed. Her abdomen was cut open with a chainsaw. A 17-year-old girl had her throat cut and both hands also amputated," said the ombudsman...

"A neighbor pounced upon a paramilitary that was ready to shoot him and took his weapon, but unfortunately he didn't know how to fire a rifle. They dragged him away, cut him open with a chainsaw and chopped him up," a witness of the massacre told El Espectador daily.

I once attended a lunch with a Colombian union official. He said the paramilitaries would generally warn people like him of their intentions, by visiting them and cutting their sleeves or pants where they would later cut off their arms and legs if they didn't flee the area. Less important people didn't get warnings.

This year we're giving Colombia approximately 600 million dollars for these appealing activities. The biggest upswing in aid came during the last years of the Clinton administration. What's really neat is the paramilitaries are actually the ones controlling most of the cocaine trade in Colombia. In other words, as part of the War on Drugs, we're giving massive aid to some of the world's biggest drug dealers.

If past experience is any guide, the people mentioned in the above article as investigating this (e.g., Colombian Senator Gustavo Petro) have maybe four weeks to live.

SPECIAL BONUS DEPRAVITY: I once worked for a right-wing corporate lawyer who had (1) a massive cocaine addiction and (2) a Colombian maid who'd been a kindergarten teacher until she fled. I often felt he should have made the connection explicit by telling her, "Look at me! I can destroy your country and your life using only MY NOSE!!!"

Of course, in the long human tradition of utter indifference to those less powerful than you, he knew neither that she'd been a kindergarten teacher nor even that she was Colombian.

Funniest Blair Statement Yet

Tony Blair is a funny man:

[Blair] was challenged by Sir David that the Western intervention in Iraq had "so far been pretty much of a disaster".

He replied: "It has, but you see what I say to people is why is it difficult in Iraq?

"It's not difficult because of some accident in planning, it's difficult because there's a deliberate strategy - al-Qaeda with Sunni insurgents on one hand, Iranian-backed elements with Shia militias on the other - to create a situation in which the will of the majority for peace is displaced by the will of the minority for war."

Yes...there are many things you can plan for in war, but one thing for which it is impossible to plan is anyone fighting you.

November 17, 2006

I Finally Come Clean About Anthony Cordesman

Barry in comments here asks this about Anthony Cordesman:

How do you know that he's 'one of the best think tank denizens in Washington', especially since he 'seemingly just makes things up'.

Methinks that you know him personally, and can't emotionally accept the idea that he's evil.

Okay. I think it's time for me finally to be honest about this:

1. Anthony Cordesman provided the financial backing for my highly successful PCP lab.

2. In addition, he's (as far as I know) the only Washington think tank type who wrote something non-crazy about the recent Hezbollah-Israel war. Specifically, he stated (pdf):

One key point that should be mentioned more in passing than as a lesson, although it may be a warning about conspiracy theories, is that no serving Israeli official, intelligence officer, or other military officer felt that the Hezbollah acted under the direction of Iran or Syria...

The issue of who was using whom, however, was answered by saying all sides - the Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria - were perfectly happy to use each other. Israelis felt Nasrallah had initiated the Sheeba farms raid on his own and that Iran and Syria were forced to support him once Israel massively escalated. Israeli officials did not endorse the [idiotic American pundit] theory that Iran forced the Hezbollah to act to distract attention from its nuclear efforts.

Also, despite the fact he was as wrong as one human possibly could be about Iraq's WMD, he wrote an excellent analysis of the various investigations into what happened, saying it was preposterous to blame the CIA, etc. for something that was obviously the fault of the Bush administration.

In my judgment, this does make him one of the best think tank denizens in Washington—not because he's so fantastic, but because the standard is so extraordinarily low.

Nothing You Can Do To Stop Being An Expert

NY Times headline:

Get Out of Iraq Now? Not So Fast, Experts Say

And who are these experts?

Kenneth M. Pollack, an expert at the Brookings Institution who served on the staff of the National Security Council during the Clinton administration, also argued that a push for troop reductions would backfire by contributing to the disorder in Iraq.

That's a pretty good description of Pollack. But it might have been more informative for NY Times readers if it has said this:

Kenneth M. Pollack, Ted Koppel's son-in-law, husband of CNN's Capitol Hill correspondent, and author of a prominent book that was utterly and completely wrong about invading Iraq, also argued that a push for troop reductions would backfire by contributing to the disorder in Iraq.

What would have been great about this is it both tells us Pollack's views and also how the NY Times determines who is and isn't an expert.

November 16, 2006

Ursula LeGuin Says: Libraries Are Important

And she said so in a library:

A government can silence writers easily, yet Literature always escapes its control. Literature cannot control a government; poets, as poets, do not legislate. What they can do is set minds free of the control of any tyrant or demagogue and his lies and disinformation.

The Greek Socrates wrote: "The misuse of language induces evil in the soul." Evil government relies on deliberate misuse of language. Because literary skill is the rigorous use of language in the pursuit of truth, the habit of literature, of serious reading, is the best defense against believing the half-truths of ideologues and the lies of demagogues.

The poet Shelley wrote: "The imagination is the great instrument of moral good." Believing that, I see a public library as the toolshed, the warehouse, concert hall, temple, Capitol of imagination — of moral good. So here — right here where we are, right now — is where America stands or falls. Can we still imagine ourselves as free? If not, we have lost our freedom.

You may thank libraries yourself by reading it all. (It's short.)


Meet The Master Of YouTube

I have concluded Dennis Perrin is the Master of YouTube, wielding it with a dexterity and suppleness found nowhere else on earth. See today's Comedy Thursday post as well as yesterday's.

I just hope Dennis continues to use his powers for good.

Thursdays Declared "No Math" Day At Washington Post

This is from a Washington Post story published today:

Between 2 percent and 5 percent of Iraq's 27 million people have been killed, wounded or uprooted since the Americans invaded in 2003, calculates Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for International and Strategic Studies.

Then, five sentences later:

Since the war began, 1.6 million Iraqis have sought refuge in neighboring countries; at least 231,530 people have been displaced inside Iraq since February, when Shiite-Sunni violence exploded with the bombing of a Shiite shrine in the northern city of Samarra, according to figures from the United Nations and the U.N.-affiliated International Organization for Migration.

2-5% of 27 million is 540,000-1,350,000. 1.6 million plus 231,530 is 1,831,530.

Thus, Anthony Cordesman calculates the number of Iraqis killed, wounded or uprooted is 540,000-1,350,000. Meanwhile, the U.N. says the number of refugees alone is at least 1.83 million.

There would be nothing wrong with writing a story that contrasts these numbers. However, the Washington Post presents them as if they don't contradict each other. I think it was the whole "percent" thing that confused them, since percentages are studied around sixth grade, and Post reporters usually drop out of school by age ten.

AND: The reason I noticed this is because Anthony Cordesman is one of the best think tank denizens in Washington, yet when it comes to this subject he seemingly just makes things up. When the most recent Johns Hopkins study came out, he opined, "They're almost certainly way too high...this is not analysis, this is politics." To understand his reasoning, I read a paper (pdf) he'd just written. According to Cordesman, one reason the Johns Hopkins study can't be correct is that it would mean "every reporter actually in Iraq is radically wrong."

I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess Cordesman didn't question "every reporter actually in Iraq." In fact, I suspect the total number of reporters he asked is three or under, and the number of Arabic-speaking non-Americans among them is zero.

I can only assume the same amount of analytical rigor went into the number he "calculates" here for the Post.

November 15, 2006

Well, At Least Glenn Beck Has Learned From The Very Best

Here's the CNN promo for a Glenn Beck special tonight:

As I've said before, one interesting thing about propaganda is it can be 100% real. A standard propaganda technique is to locate the most extreme statements by anyone on the other "side," and hype it as much as you possibly can to your "side" as embodying the true spirit and goals of your "enemies." Thus, propagandists in the mideast hype Ann Coulter's craziest statements and Ralph Peters' nutty map. And a propagandist like Glenn Beck does exactly the same thing on CNN for our "side."

I just hope that tonight Beck is gracious enough to acknowledge his debt to those who've come before him:

Theodore N. Kaufman was a 31-year old owner of a theatrical ticket agency in Newark, New Jersey who published at his own expense a 100-page book titled Germany Must Perish! in March, 1941. It called for the sterilization of the German population and the dismemberment of Germany, with its land being turned over to neighboring states. The book received no serious attention in the U.S., but the Nazis discovered it in July 1941. They played it up big...Late in September 1941, this pamphlet by Wolfgang Diewerge appeared in an edition, according to Goebbels, of five million...A month after publication, the Nazis released a four-page flyer to remind Germans of Kaufman's plan...

Kaufman remained a mainstay of German propaganda for the remainder of the war, his last major appearance coming in a late-1944 pamphlet titled Never!, which collected every manner of Allied threat against Germany.

November 14, 2006

Who's The Next Lucky Contestant?

In comments, abb1 writes:

If history is any guide, they will invade and take over some small totally defenseless unallied country in the next two years. Some island in the Carribean, perhaps. It'll be great, totally triumphant. And I don't expect any American casualties. After that it's time to start getting ready for the next big one.

I'd been meaning to say something along these lines. I doubt George Bush will let his Daddy take his shiny Iraq toy away. But if against odds all American troops are pulled out, we know what happens next: we attack somebody who was lookin' at us funny, just so nobody gets the idea that because we left Iraq we're pussies.

Will our efforts be Mayagüez sized? Or bigger, like Grenada? Given all the humiliation America's foreign policy cadre will (believe themselves to) experience, it's quite possible it will be larger still. Watch out, Mars.

November 13, 2006

To The Barricades! (Really)

Dennis Kucinich says:

KUCINICH: We need to have hearings on Iraq again. We need to go over again why we went there. We need to review the statements and all the errors that were made, and from that we bring the country together to take a new direction. It’s all fact-based. And then we start to heal our nation. But we cannot heal America if we continue with policies that are based on lies. We’ll never be able to bring closure to this Iraq matter unless we tell the truth about what happened. So America needs a new approach of truth and reconciliation. This isn’t a Democratic or Republican matter. This is a matter that relates to the conscience of this country. This is a matter of the heart—the heart of democracy itself. This is a matter of whether we’re going to a sober reflection about the events that have transpired since 9/11, with respect to Iraq. And until we do this, we will be trapped not only physically in Iraq, we’ll be trapped emotionally and spiritually in Iraq. We may never get out of Iraq if we don’t tell the truth.

Read it all.

There is about to be a big fight within the Democratic party about this. Some, like Kucinich, really do want to drag the whole hideous nightmare of how we got into Iraq out into the light. Others either want to let the coverup stand, or don't understand why it matters. What me and you and everyone we know should be doing now is generating as much pressure as possible to help those like Kucinich.

Why? From the least abstract reasons to the most:

1. As Kucinich says, the only hope we have for a less-bad outcome in Iraq is if the people responsible are held accountable for their lies.
2. If these people are allowed to continue lying and control the national narrative, the hopes for any further progressive change in America will be dead.
3. If these people aren't held accountable now, they will be back in 2013 with a scheme to invade the underwater kingdom of Atlantis.
4. The truth is a good thing.

Let's go.

How Much The American Government Cares About American Troops

For Veterans Day Dan Froomkin ran an excerpt from Operation Homecoming, a collection of 100 accounts by American troops of their experiences in Iraq. The excerpt was by Sharon D. Allen, a sergeant in the Ohio Army National Guard, describing her camp's nightly discussions of why Bush sent them to Iraq:

Along with the whole question of mixing faith and politics, we're also dealing with a schismatic religion and people who loathe one another. A Sunni won't even use a toilet after a Shiite has. Now we want them to work together to create a new system of law? Then you throw in the Kurds, who are mainly Christian, of an entirely different culture, and whose claim to fame is that their mere existence is the one thing that brings the Sunnis and Shiites together. The Muslims and Kurds hate each other with a bloodthirsty passion most of us cannot even conceive.

This makes you wonder why the U.S. government can't give American troops a DVD or a comic book or SOMETHING that would give them basic information about Iraq—such as, for instance, Kurds are largely Sunni Muslim with a few Shia and very few Christians mixed in. Beyond the fact it's just polite to take an interest in a country you've invaded, knowing who people are is a big help if you want to kill fewer of them and/or have them kill fewer of you.

UPDATE: En Ming Hee brings up World War II's "How to Spot a Jap". So on second thought, maybe it would be best just to let this concept die quietly on the vine.

November 12, 2006

Everything In Politics Is Very Simple, Except Of Course When It Involves Wrongdoing By Me And My Friends, When Suddenly The World Is Filled With Shades Of Grey

There's one thing we know about Doug "Fucking Stupidest Guy on the Face of the Earth" Feith: he's not afraid to make stark moral judgments.

For instance, here's Feith in a 2002 speech:

However much the language of morality elicits sniffs from some of our sophisticated critics abroad and at home, we don't flinch from using it. Moral clarity is a strategic asset.

Here's a bit of his 2003 article "Strategy and the Idea of Freedom":

President Reagan's talk of democracy and good-versus-evil and his exhortation to tear down the Berlin Wall were widely criticized, even ridiculed, as unsophisticated and de-stabilizing. But it's now widely understood as having contributed importantly to the greatest victory in world history...

God, I can't wait until he finds out about this new Washington Post op-ed, with its moral relativism and mealy-mouthed equivocation! I bet he's going to EXCORIATE it!

Rumsfeld is a bundle of paradoxes, like a fascinating character in a work of epic literature. And as my high school teachers drummed into my head, the best literature reveals that humans are complex. They are not the all-good or all-bad, all-brilliant or all-dumb figures that inhabit trashy novels and news stories. Fine literature teaches us the difference between appearance and reality.

-- "The Donald Rumsfeld I Know," by Douglas J. Feith

ALSO: I wonder if by giving this piece the title "The Donald Rumsfeld I Know," headline writers at the Post were having a little fun with Feith.

Our Kampf

Within the next few weeks, Mike Gerber and I will be putting out a collection of our humor pieces from the New Yorker, Atlantic, NY Times, Saturday Night Live and our computers' hard drives. For obvious reasons, it will be called Our Kampf.

Below is one of my favorite pieces from the book, written for the 4th of July, 2002. If you read this site regularly, you'll see that every post that's ever appeared here has been a less sophisticated version of this.

• • •

Declaration of Independence

The unanimous Declaration of the world's Normal People (we know who we are),

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for the Normal People of this Planet to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with their Leaders, and to give getting along without Leaders a real Shot, courtesy requires that we should declare the causes of this long-overdue separation, just so we're all on the same page.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Leaders are a pretty dodgy proposition -- That even the best ones are Self-Absorbed Primadonnas, and the rest are seriously Craze-o Lunatics -- That Normal People have the right to tell their Leaders "…see Ya, wouldn't want to be Ya" -- That to secure this right of being left alone, we should set up a special Island to which all Leaders can be sent, so that they can bicker, and posture, and pursue the Phantom of Eternal Fame amongst themselves without Injuring all the rest of us -- That this Island could maybe, this is just off the top of our heads you understand, be like Epcot Center, with the whole world in miniature so the Leaders could conquer it and lose it and bend it to their Mighty Will and lose it again, and generally Ruin It to their hearts' content, without bothering Us. Prudence indeed will dictate that the long-established Idea of having Leaders should not be changed for light or transient Causes, but, come on. We've given this concept plenty of Time, at least 8,000 years, and it's for the birds. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

The world's Leaders have somehow convinced us that we are all on different Teams, sort of, and that they are the rightful captains of these Teams.

They have tried to weld us together by constantly harping on our Team's Great and Glorious Destiny, assuming that we, like them, give a shit. In lower voices, they assure us that we will be in Big Trouble if we don't do exactly as they Say.

They have persuaded us to try to kill members of the other Teams, instead of following our natural instinct, which is to indulge our curiosity about whether people from different countries have discovered any new Sex Tricks, or have Better Food.

They have gotten us to go on ludicrously dangerous missions against the other Teams, while they remain safely behind at their Impregnable Mountain Redoubts. This has insured that the people responsible for starting Wars always survive, and can't wait to start the Next One.

They have started innumerable, catastrophic conflicts to, for example, impress some Girl that rejected them in High School, or to prove to their Mother that they're just as successful as their Older Brother. Read their Biographies if you don't believe Us.

They've informed us that they've talked to God, and that He agrees with them Completely.

They have made our laws so complicated that, while we know we're being Screwed, we can never figure out Exactly How.

They think that we're Fascinated by them, despite the fact that, by steadily reducing our voting rate for The past fifty years, we keep giving them a resolute and obvious Hint.

In every stage of these Oppressions we have humbly petitioned for redress by bitching among ourselves, reading the paper with a weary cynicism, and laughing at the opening monologues on late night television. We have even allowed Dennis Miller on Monday Night Football. The cost is finally too dear, and we need a new Strategy.

We, therefore, the Normal People of this Planet, who don't care who's on the money, or think that anybody will (or should) remember any of us in 500 years, do solemnly publish and declare that all the world's Leaders are hereby relieved of their positions; that our feeling is, enough already with the Jihads and the Crusades and Glorious Struggles and Finest Hours; that we believe we will be much better off without them, relying for our safety instead on our inability to organize a three-person trip to 7-Eleven, much less sustained armed conflict; that it's time to get this Leader Island idea off the ground; that if, once the Leaders have been sent to the Island, any of us develop Leader-tendencies, we will encourage such Persons to develop a Hobby, or get them a Date with somebody Nice, and this will help them remember what's important. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our dearest Hope that we can finally get some Peace and Quiet. We are not Kidding.

November 10, 2006

These People Are Just As Detail-Oriented As You Suspect

Here's a Wall Street Journal editorial by second string neo-con Reuel Marc Gerecht, with a mildly amusing mistake:

Gates Crasher
by Reuel Marc Gerecht

As will soon be apparent, the Iraq Survey Group, of which Mr. Gates is a member and to which I'm an adviser, has not discovered any way for the U.S. to exit Iraq -- except under catastrophic conditions...

Mr. Gerecht is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and an adviser to the Iraq Survey Group

I guess the federal government has so many stupid blue ribbon panels even the people involved can't keep their names straight. The thing for which Gerecht is an advisor is the Iraq Study Group. The Iraq Survey Group was the CIA team sent to look for WMD.

I realize this is a small, easy-to-make error...but I'd really like the people running the world to be a little more detail-oriented.

Wow, That Was Fast

Here's one of Nancy Pelosi's pledges about their first 100 hours in power:

We will make health care more affordable for all Americans, and we will begin by fixing the Medicare prescription drug program, putting seniors first by negotiating lower drug prices.

Dean Baker wonders whether the Democrats are selling us out already:

The bill passed by the Republican Congress prohibited Medicare from offering its own plan... [which] means that drugs cost almost twice as much as if Medicare bargained directly with the industry and secured the same prices as the Veterans Administration or the Canadian government. The Republicans also added a seemingly gratuitious clause that explicitly prohibited Medicare from negotiating prices with the industry.

During the campaign, the Democrats had promised that they would reform the drug bill to allow Medicare to offer its own drug plan. On NPR this morning, it was reported that the Democrats now are just planning to remove the gratuitious clause prohibiting Medicare from negotiating prices with the drug industry, while not allowing Medicare to offer its own plan.

Removing this prohibition by itself will mean nothing. What would Medicare negotiate over, if it doesn't offer its own plan? This could lead cynics to believe that the Democrats are trying to pull in some of the campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical and insurance industries which have disproportionately gone to Republicans in recent election cycles.

Baker notes the NPR reporter may have gotten this wrong, given that members of the media are required to be completely ignorant of the issues they spend their lives covering. Hopefully there will be more news soon about what's actually going on.

November 09, 2006

Can't Elect A New Media

Nice work, Adam Nagourney and the New York Times:

On the Friday before Election Day, Mr. Cheney told George Stephanopoulos of ABC News that the White House would push “full speed ahead” with its Iraq policy, no matter the outcome of the election. In the process, Mr. Cheney obscured a last minute flurry in which the president had attacked Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts for a remark about American troops in Iraq.

It's safe to say I'm not the world's biggest John Kerry fan. Still, I've always dreamed that someday the New York Times could write a story that mentions Kerry without regurgitating the most pernicious, disgusting right wing smears against him.

Maybe I need some new dreams.

(Thanks to Dean Baker for pointing this out.)

Goodbye To Lyin' Annie Northup

Anne Northup is many things. Among them are: (1) a powerful Republican representative from Kentucky who was just defeated by John Yarmuth, and (2) a shameless liar.

I assume she lies about many things, but where I have direct experience is her lies about Social Security. Last year I was writing a lot here and for various publications about Bush's privatization plan. The first time I ever saw Northup was when she went on Hannity & Colmes and said this:

COLMES: So tell me, Congresswoman, how would he pay for the transition cost, something he hasn't addressed?

NORTHUP: Well, I think he has addressed many of these things, and we've talked about the fact that there's a $10 trillion unfunded liability. And when you reduce that significantly, and it costs $2 trillion to go through that transition, overall, you've reduced the overall liability debt of this country.

COLMES: I don't know what you -- where does the $2 trillion come from? It's going to cost $2 trillion for the transfer. Where does that money come from?

NORTHUP: Well, the fact is, you borrow it, but you reduce the $10 trillion liability.

Wow, that's a lot of lying.

The "transition cost" and "unfunded liability" of Social Security are completely separate issues. The transition cost refers to the money the government would have to borrow to set up a system of private accounts. But this would do nothing to reduce the system's unfunded liability. Only two things can do that: cutting benefits and/or raising taxes. You could spend money to set up a system of private accounts without reducing the unfunded liability. Likewise, you could eliminate the unfunded liability without a system of private accounts. One of the chief goals of the Bush administration was to confuse people into thinking these two things are the same, and Northup was doing her part here. (If you feel like hearing me rehash the mechanics of Social Security, just ask. Otherwise you can take my word for it.)

But that's not all! Northup's official position on Social Security was that "Any reforms should be accomplished without raising taxes, without raising the retirement age, and without reducing benefits." Again, if Social Security genuinely has the "$10 trillion unfunded liability" which Northup claimed, it's literally impossible to eliminate it without doing these things.

I was irritated by this, so I contacted Northup's office and (very politely) asked her press secretary Annie Reed to justify what she'd said. Reed said: no, no, Representative Northup really DOES have a plan to do this! Moreover, this plan is "is scored [by the Social Security Administration] to cost just over $1 trillion."

The plan to which she referred was the Ryan-Sununu bill. I looked it up, and sure enough it didn't raise taxes or cut benefits. Instead, according to the SSA's actuaries, IT BORROWED 8.5 TRILLION DOLLARS.

That's right: the Anne Northup scheme to handle this purported gigantic crisis was to borrow all the money to deal with it. For some perspective, $8.5 trillion is perhaps 80% 70% of the entire 2005 U.S. GDP. (Again, ask for details if you're curious.)

Now, that's (1) completely insane (which is why that particular plan never was taken seriously by anyone), and (2) not at all what Annie Reed claimed. So I first emailed her to direct me to the specific place in the SSA's scoring of Ryan-Sununu where it said it would "cost just over $1 trillion." No response. Concerned I'd misunderstood something, I then contacted the SSA Chief Actuary and doublechecked. No, he said, that plan would indeed cost $8.5 trillion. I forwarded the SSA email to Annie Reed. No response. I called four or five times and left messages. No response.

Meanwhile, Anne Northup kept making the same false claims in numerous media appearances.

Generally with these people it's hard to tell whether they're idiots or liars. But in the case of soon-to-be-ex-Rep. Northup and her staff, we can answer that question definitively: they're liars.

November 08, 2006

Time To Prove Dick Cheney Right For The First Time In His Entire Life

Rumsfeld out.

Let's now remember this section from Bob Woodward's book State of Denial:

[Andrew] Card kept pushing, at one point raising the possibility of change at the Pentagon with Vice President Cheney.

No, Cheney said, he was predisposed to recommend that the president keep Rumsfeld right where he was. Card was not surprised.

In private conversations with Bush, Cheney said Rumsfeld's departure, no matter how it might be spun, would be seen only as an expression of doubt and hesitation on the war. It would give the war critics great heart and momentum, he confided to an aide, and soon they would be after him and then the president. He virtually insisted that Rumsfeld stay.

The Most Important Question

By far the most important question about yesterday's election results is this: will it stop Bush from attacking Iran before he leaves office?

Obviously I have no idea. But if I had to guess, I'd say the answer is yes.

I accept that in a world where politicians acted rationally, the elections shouldn't constrain Bush at all. Bush and Republicans would recognize yesterday wasn't necessarily a stunning repudiation of everything the administration stands for; all that happened since two years ago was a small percentage of people switched their vote. They'd also understand Democrats would do little to stop Bush from bombing Iran. In fact, a significant faction of the Democrats may soon start baying for war themselves, as part of their cunning plan to get to the right of Bush on national security.

But politics has almost nothing to do with the rational perception of reality. I suspect Republicans in Congress who still have jobs are genuinely stunned, and believe they've got to change things significantly to avoid suffering the fate of their defeated colleagues. As William Greider says in Who Will Tell the People:

In Congress, the power exerted by a relative handful of intruders radiates rather quickly through the entire membership as other politicians calculate the implications for themselves. In my observation, nothing captures the attention of senators and representatives more firmly than the shock of seeing four or five of their colleagues blindsided in an election—defeated by a popular issue no one had anticipated or by an assembly of citizens no one had taken seriously. Typically, regardless of party or political persuasion, the members try to adjust quickly to this new threat, if they can, so that they will not be the next target.

Thus, there will be a significant movement among Republicans to rein Bush in. Moreover, no matter how much Bush denies it, the same sense of uncertain footing will creep into his consciousness. The type of lunatics who become president tend to believe their election has demonstrated they have a mystical connection with The Will of The People. Anything that shakes this sense will have more of an effect on them than you'd expect.

So, if anything stops Bush, it probably won't be real resistance from the Democrats, but rather a loss of verve on his own side.

What do you think? I'm prepared to be argued out of this. But if I'm right and the election prevents an attack on Iran—or has merely lowered the chances of one—or even just lowered the chances of our NUKING Iran—it had a big significance we shouldn't sneer at. (Take that, Dennis and J. Alva!)

As one old Democratic party hack once put it: general the political spectrum is pretty narrow in the United States, and elections are mostly bought, as the population knows.

But despite the limited differences both domestically and internationally, there are differences. And in this system of immense power, small differences can translate into large outcomes.

Media Continues Proud Tradition Of Utter Incompetence

NY Times:

In Montana, the Senate race between the Republican incumbent, Conrad Burns, and Jon Tester, a Democrat, also remained close this morning, with Mr. Tester leading by about 1,600 votes as late returns trickled in.

But that margin amounted to a 1.6 percent gap — not enough, if it holds up, to give Mr. Burns the legal right to request a recount. Montana law provides for recounts only in races with a margin of one-quarter of 1 percent or less.

NY Times, elsewhere:

190,486 (49%)

188,900 (49%)

9,990 (3%)

Obviously the reporter, John O'Neil, looked at these numbers ("Mr. Tester leading by about 1,600 votes"). But he couldn't do the elementary school math that would allow him to correctly calculate Tester's lead (190,486-188,900=1,586. 190,486+188,900+9,990=389,376. 1,586/389,376=0.407%.)

It's interesting the recount provisions are so narrow in Montana, since even the actual margin won't allow a recount. According to the article, in Virginia losers can request recounts if the margin is less than 1.0%. (I'm assuming here John O'Neil's reading comprehension is better than his ability to add and subtract.)

In any case, what's amazing isn't necessarily that O'Neil made a mistake—I've been known to make them from time to time—but his subsequent (lack of) thinking process. He and his editors didn't look at that sentence and say to themselves: 1,600 is 1.6%? Which indicates only 100,000 people voted in Montana? Maybe we should doublecheck that. No, they forged on right ahead.

I wish it weren't too much to ask that a reporter at the highest-quality newspaper in America should have to know this kind of thing before writing articles on school loan rates, studies on second-hand smoke, and health care generally. But I guess it is.

And it actually matters. Someone who doesn't have a minimal facility with math is going to be uncomfortable challenging Washington's many slippery think tank fellows, much less the even-slipperier government types. Such reporters will just take what they say and rush it into the paper...thus helping provide us with the type of craptastic politics we've enjoyed for so long.

EXCITING UPDATE: Somebody at the New York Times can do fifth grade math. The paragraph now reads:

But that margin amounted to a gap of about half a percent — not enough, if it holds up, to give Mr. Burns the legal right to request a recount. Montana law provides for recounts only in races with a margin of one-quarter of 1 percent or less.

Nah Nah Nah Nah, Nah Nah Nah Nah, Hey Hey Insane Evil People, Goodbye

It's so nice to have the sane evil people back running a few things. Oh sane evil people, I will never take you for granted again.

November 07, 2006

But Where Today Is Teh Funny?

Well, I went and voted against George Bush 7,000 times. Please don't tell anyone in charge of enforcing election law and/or reality.

On the funny side of electoral things, Kate Powers sends along this NPR segment. Make sure to listen to it all.

Also, as part of NaBloPoMo, Kate will be posting every day in November. Already posted are such wonderful things as "The Glossary of Kate and Michael":

Agathe Brchnya – A fictional housekeeper, employed by an equally fictional director of horror films, circa 1930-1937. Originally from Srebnia, an obscure province of no affiliation, nestled in the foothills of the Ural Mountains. Superstitious, pessimistic, cranky, loyal to a fault. Not above poisoning romantic rivals with a tincture. Handy with a poultice. Appears, unprompted, in our apartment from time to time, to hold forth on topics of the day. Once performed CPR on a beloved, but deceased chicken...

Beefcake – Term of endearment. Inspired by cat who bears more than a passing resemblance to one of Mark McGuire’s forearms. She’s twelve pounds of feline muscle and appears several times in Jose Conseco’s new book.

Dead People TV – Noun. Any of the several television shows I watch obsessively, specifically “This person is dead, but who killed them?” (Law & Order); “This person is dead, but how did they die?” (CSI); “This person has disappeared and if we don’t find them, they might die!” (Without a Trace); “This person died so long ago, no one has any idea what killed them!” (Cold Case.)

Fizzle - Not a part of Snoop Dogg talk, but a cat whose actual name begins with an F. And pretty much, that's the only part of the actual name represented in "Fizzle." We are hardcore nicknamers...

Nocturne of the Damned – Proper noun. One of Agathe’s first films. She played Smette, the housekeeper. Also a synonym of any bad experience.

A: The Unemployment Office was a living hell.

B: A Nocturne of the Damned?

A: You said it.

Satan's Nut Sack - Our kitchen garbage can, or more specifically, the stench it produces under certain circumstances. We've tried everything but setting fire to the fucker and the stink just keeps coming back.

Tennessee Tuxedo – Term of endearment. Inspired by cat who appears to wear tuxedo. Same cat also known as “Spotfoot” for reasons you can probably put together.

Twilight of the Shrew – Proper noun. Another film from Agathe’s resume. She played Frette, the housekeeper. I think you're probably seeing the pattern here.

Vengepoop – Noun/Verb. Signifies smelly declaration of displeasure on the part of a cat. Usually found a few inches from litter box, but bathroom rugs are also fair game. See also Tennessee Tuxedo, the primary committer of vengepoops.

November 06, 2006

Stutts! Stutts! Stutts!

I well remember sitting next to my Stutts University classmate Mike Rubin as we took the required Introduction to Peevish Amour Propre freshman year. God, did Mike study hard, and it all paid off: Professor Blythewiggam gave him the highest score any Stuttsian has ever received. (Due to grade inflation, this was an AAA++++++++++++++++++++)

And just as we always knew he would, Mike has gone far in the world, as part of the neoconservative JV. He was interviewed for the upcoming Vanity Fair piece, previewed here:

Michael Rubin, former Pentagon Office of Special Plans and Coalition Provisional Authority staffer: "Where I most blame George Bush is that through his rhetoric people trusted him, people believed him. Reformists came out of the woodwork and exposed themselves." By failing to match his rhetoric with action, Rubin adds, Bush has betrayed Iraqi reformers in a way that is "not much different from what his father did on February 15, 1991, when he called the Iraqi people to rise up, and then had second thoughts and didn't do anything once they did."

Mike didn't take kindly to this "pre-election hit job" slur upon his honor:

re: Vanity Fair [Michael Rubin]
I stand by what I say—which is not different than what I have said elsewhere. But, perhaps it is time for Vanity Fair to publish the full transcripts of all interviews. If they have nothing to hide—for example taking quotes out of context—then they should have no worries. Vanity Fair: Publish the full transcripts. Now. Before the elections. Stop playing games.

We learned many things in Introduction to Peevish Amour Propre: how to take offense when the help at the club doesn't remember your favorite drink; why to end your cutting sarcastic remarks with a "good day, Sir!"; the three best vocal inflections to communicate your net worth; etc. But no one ever told us how to imply that a U.S. election turned on the publishing of the "full transcripts" of an interview with us.

Man, Mike should be TEACHING that class now!

Against Stupidity The Gods Themselves Struggle In Vain, And I'm Not Even A God

The truth is I'm not particularly angry at Jim "Nine Lobotomies" Geraghty. My real anger is directed at those with genuine power: Dick Cheney, Rupert Murdoch, and the International Army of Killer Billionaires. However, they're totally impervious to my puny efforts, whereas it's possible to mildly embarrass tiny fish like Geraghty. Thus Geraghty & co. are on the receiving end of my displaced anger.

With that said, I'm now going to direct my displaced anger at an even tinier fish: "Berkeley Non-conformist," who left this comment on the post about Geraghty:

Wow, Ad Hominem for the win.

I find it amusing that the twin arguments of "The United States should fix its mistakes" and "The United States should never fix its mistakes" are so cleverly placed one after the other. Maybe you forgot to place the United Charity announcement between them?

The simple, and yes it is simple enough, truth is this: No one knows if the big-Hussein had any WMDs (God, I hate that acronym), chances are he didn't. However, he would not have hesitated to arm himself with them come the time the sanctions were lifted.

Really, does anyone disagree that SH would have tried to make himself a threat again if he had the ability? Those who do disagree: Hey, reality called, he's sorry about those mean things he said, but he think he can make the relationship work again.

The U.S. invasion was the only thing that prevented the lifting of the sanctions formally or informally (Read, in violation of U.N. orders. What? Countries would violate U.N. orders? THE HORROR!), ergo, the U.S. invasion prevented acquisition and use of WMD by Saddam Hussein, a man worse than the looniest dreams about the man who currently resides in the White House.

Posted by: Berkeley Non-conformist at November 6, 2006 01:12 AM

SWEET RAPPIN' JEHOSAPHAT THAT'S STUPID. Moreover, it's stupid in, as I count it, nine separate ways.

However, rather than explicate the stupid myself, I invite you to explain which part of this spectacular eruption of stupid lava you think is stupiderest.

To get you started, here's number one:

1. What I wrote about Jim Geraghty wasn't "Ad Hominem." Ad Hominem doesn't mean "an argument where you insult someone." It means arguing a statement is wrong because of the nature of the person making the statement.

Thus, an Ad Hominem argument would go like this:

A. Berkeley Non-conformist claims my Jim Geraghty post was Ad Hominem
B. Berkeley Non-conformist couldn't be stupider if his skull were filled with boiling Shoe Goo(tm)
C. Therefore, Berkeley Non-conformist's claim is false

By contrast, my Geraghty post has this structure:

A. Berkeley Non-conformist claims my Jim Geraghty post was Ad Hominem
B. Berkeley Non-conformist's claim is false because he's misunderstood the meaning of Ad Hominem; here's why
C. Therefore, Berkeley Non-conformist clearly has the IQ of pumice

All right, it's all yours. I'm hoping you'll come up with some stupid angles that haven't even occurred to me.

November 05, 2006

Michael Ledeen: The Best There Ever Was

Much of the blurghosphere is gaping in slack-jawed amazement at Michael Ledeen this afternoon. And rightfully so. Others in the right-wing's core of frothing foreign policy lunatics are spectacular liars, landing the equivalent of double and triple axels with ease. But Ledeen has flown far beyond what anyone had dreamed possible for human beings. Behold, the nonuple axel of lying:

I do not feel "remorseful," since I had and have no involvement with our Iraq policy. I opposed the military invasion of Iraq before it took place and I advocated—as I still do—support for political revolution in Iran as the logical and necessary first step in the war against the terror masters.

WOW. Let's rewind the tape and watch that one again in slow motion.

Mona at Inactivist was the first to pick up on this. She points out that on August 6, 2002, Ledeen ridiculed Brent Scowcroft's concerns that an invasion of Iraq "could turn the whole region into a caldron and destroy the War on Terror." How ridiculous, wrote Ledeen:

One can only hope that we turn the region into a cauldron, and faster, please...

The most dangerous course of action is Scowcroft's: Finesse Iraq...

Then Meteor Blades at Daily Kos quoted Ledeen's responses in an August 12, 2002 Frontpage interview:

Question #2: Okay, well if we are all so certain about the dire need to invade Iraq, then when do we do so?

Ledeen: Yesterday.

Then Glenn Greenwald spoke up, with quotes from a Ledeen Wall Street Journal op-ed.

But there's more. Much, much more.

Sadly, some of this is via Nexis and not on the regular internets. But here it is, in chronological order:

Hardball, August 19, 2002:

MICHAEL LEDEEN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: ...I think in the case of Iraq, the strongest argument for a preemptive strike is to say what I believe which is that we have in effect been at war with Iraq for quite a long time. They have attacked us repeatedly. They tried to assassinate one former American president. They've supported terrorists that have carried out terrorist activities within the United States...So this would not be a preemptive strike. This would be a response...

BARNICLE: So Michael, that begs the question that if we continue to go down this road, as articulated by President Bush at West Point, do we really need as a nation more enemies around the globe?

LEDEEN: I don't think winning this war will create enemies, quite the contrary. I think that enemies would take heart from our failure to wage this war and even more so from our failure to win the war. I don't believe for a minute that the European leaders from today are saying go slow, take it easy...

They know we're going to win this war and they cannot stay out of it. It's just too damaging to them. So I think you'll see a huge change once the war starts and I think that if President Bush is to be faulted for anything in this so far, it's that he's taken much too long to get on with it, much too long.

"Ledeen Keeps Track of Terrorism" by Paula R. Kaufman, Insight Magazine, October 29, 2002

Q: Why then do we need European approval to take down Saddam?

A: We don't. But we will bring down Saddam and when we do we will have Europe's approval. The British, well, there's no uncertainty about them. They're with us all the way. And Italy and Spain are on board.

In the end, however, we will have the approval of the rest...

Q: ...when Bill Clinton was in the White House, Sens. Tom Daschle [D-S.D.], Patrick Leahy [D-Vt.] and John Kerry [D-Mass.] couldn't line up fast enough to flex U.S. military muscle in Iraq. What's going on?

A: It's certainly true that a lot of Democrats were in favor of going after Saddam when Clinton was in power. But they knew Clinton wasn't going to attack Iraq, so it was perfectly safe for them to come out in favor of war. Nonetheless, the stance of some of them today is incredible. If the case for striking tyrants such as Saddam was strong before 9/11, then it certainly is a hell of a lot stronger after 9/11.

"The Blind Leading the Blind" by Michael Ledeen, National Review Online, November 21, 2002:

We are gearing up for a military campaign against Iraq, which, even if it is necessary is only a part of the strategy for the broad war in which we are engaged.

"A Meaningful Address" by Michael Ledeen, New York Sun, January 28, 2003:

The president is well aware of the "uncertainty discount" that afflicts our capital markets nowadays - people are nervous about investing because they are waiting for many shoes to drop, from our long-overdue liberation of Iraq to possible renewed terrorist strikes against us here at home. The longer we dawdle, the greater our anxiety...

The myriad legal minds noodling this issue disagree as to whether or not we were already entitled to strike Iraq, or whether it called for renewed Security Council endorsement. I think the nature of the ceasefire agreement adds a second solid basis for liberating Iraq, along with the self-defense principle.

"The Willful Blindness of those Who Will Not See" by Michael Ledeen, National Review Online, February 18, 2003:

There is no dispute over Iran's preeminent role, even among those experts who shrink from its consequences. Yet Western governments, even the Bush administration, have steadfastly refused to do the one thing that the facts demand: design and conduct a policy to help the Iranian people fulfill their desire for freedom, and bring down the murderous regime in Tehran. Unlike the war against Iraq, it doesn't require bombs or bullets, only the usual kind of financial and moral support we have given to so many freedom fighters in the past. ...

The liberation of Iran would be the greatest imaginable triumph in the war against terrorism, as well as the fulfillment of America's mission to support freedom fighters against their tyrants. As in the war against Iraq, we have already waited far too long to get on with it.

Faster, please!

Michael Ledeen: THE. BEST. THERE. EVER. WAS.

Memory Hole Back To Near-100% Efficiency

Big news!

Saddam Hussein Is Sentenced to Death

An Iraqi special tribunal today convicted Saddam Hussein of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to death by hanging...

As you'd expect in an industry devoted to bringing crucial information to as wide an audience as possible, out of the thousands of English-language stories on the verdict, only one (from the United Arab Emirates), has bothered mentioning this:

Saddam was seen by U.S. intelligence services as a bulwark of anti-communism and they used him as their instrument for more than 40 years, according to former U.S. intelligence diplomats and intelligence officials...his first contacts with U.S. officials date back to 1959, when he was part of a CIA-authorized six-man squad tasked with assassinating then Iraqi Prime Minister Gen. Abd al-Karim Qasim...

Saddam, while only in his early 20s, became a part of a U.S. plot to get rid of Qasim...

The assassination was set for Oct. 7, 1959, but it was completely botched...Saddam, whose calf had been grazed by a fellow would-be assassin, escaped to Tikrit, thanks to CIA and Egyptian intelligence agents...

Saddam then crossed into Syria and was transferred by Egyptian intelligence agents to Beirut, according to Darwish and former senior CIA officials. While Saddam was in Beirut, the CIA paid for Saddam's apartment and put him through a brief training course, former CIA officials said. The agency then helped him get to Cairo, they said...

In Cairo, Saddam was installed in an apartment in the upper class neighborhood of Dukki and spent his time playing dominos in the Indiana Café, watched over by CIA and Egyptian intelligence operatives...during this time Saddam was making frequent visits to the American Embassy...

In February 1963 Qasim was killed in a Baath Party coup...the agency quickly moved into action. Noting that the Baath Party was hunting down Iraq's communist, the CIA provided the submachine gun-toting Iraqi National Guardsmen with lists of suspected communists who were then jailed, interrogated, and summarily gunned down...the mass killings, presided over by Saddam, took place at Qasr al-Nehayat, literally, the Palace of the End...

The CIA/Defense Intelligence Agency relation with Saddam intensified after the start of the Iran-Iraq war in September of 1980. During the war, the CIA regularly sent a team to Saddam to deliver battlefield intelligence obtained from Saudi AWACS surveillance aircraft to aid the effectiveness of Iraq's armed forces...the CIA and DIA provided military assistance to Saddam's ferocious February 1988 assault on Iranian positions in the al-Fao peninsula by blinding Iranian radars for three days.

The Saddam-U.S. intelligence alliance of convenience came to an end at 2 a.m. Aug. 2, 1990, when 100,000 Iraqi troops, backed by 300 tanks, invaded its neighbor, Kuwait. America's one-time ally had become its bitterest enemy.

This is of course how it should be, because all that matters in life is what's happened within the last twelve seconds.

November 04, 2006

As A Fellow Idea Man, I Feel For Richard Perle

Richard Perle, now:

Huge mistakes were made, and I want to be very clear on this: They were not made by neoconservatives, who had almost no voice in what happened, and certainly almost no voice in what happened after the downfall of the regime in Baghdad. I'm getting damn tired of being described as an architect of the war. I was in favor of bringing down Saddam. Nobody said, "Go design the campaign to do that." I had no responsibility for that.

Me, two years ago: job is to be the idea man. It's not my responsibility if my ideas are completely unworkable, highly dangerous, against the law, or all three. (For instance: I think America should invade the Vatican and install Ahmed Chalabi as Pope. But how this should be implemented is up to my subordinates.)

November 03, 2006

Don't Get Too Excited

As the clock winds down to the midterm elections, Dennis Perrin points out we shouldn't believe much if anything will change if Democrats are running Congress. In a three-part series of bleakness, he provides his own personal political history here and here, and then gloomily winds it up here.

ALSO: Here are Arthur Silber's thoughts on an election conceived in nausea.

Cry, The Beloved Stupid Country

There are stupid people everywhere on earth. In most countries they quietly putter their lives away, trying to grow mangos in Nova Scotia and getting into occasional bar fights with people who tell them Jean-Luc Picard isn't a real person.

What's unique about 21st century America is that we have a gigantic industry devoted to finding these people and giving them jobs opining about politics. "Can't tie your own shoes?" read the want ads. "Believe two plus two equals nine, and willing to say so in public? Apply today for a career in the Right Wing Media!"

Thus there are dozens, hundreds, thousands of these cretins toiling away in the subsidized vineyards, making their Idiot Wine. But I think we need to stop today and salute Jim Geraghty of National Review, who has produced perhaps the Stupidest Vintage ever.

Here's why:

As we've known since the early nineties, Iraq got close to building a nuclear weapon before the 1991 Gulf War. The shortest estimates are that Iraq would have needed perhaps another year (without the sanctions imposed in August, 1990 after the invasion of Kuwait).

After the Gulf War, however, the Iraqi nuclear program was destroyed by the IAEA and never reconstituted. During this time the IAEA required Iraq to explain in detail exactly what their pre-91 nuclear program achieved. Copies of these documents were given to the U.N. on repeated occasions, including in fall, 2002. Before any were publicly released, sensitive information about weapon design, etc. was excised.

After our newest war huge numbers of Iraqi government documents were captured. America's right pushed for them to be publicly released online. (They believed the documents would hold overlooked clues to Saddam's Chamber of Secrets hiding his WMD and valentines from Osama.)

Now the New York Times has reported that the uncensored versions of the nuclear documents were accidentally included in the online release:

...the site has posted some documents that weapons experts say are a danger themselves: detailed accounts of Iraq's secret nuclear research before the 1991 Persian Gulf war. The documents, the experts say, constitute a basic guide to building an atom bomb...

Among the dozens of documents in English were Iraqi reports written in the 1990s and in 2002 for United Nations inspectors in charge of making sure Iraq had abandoned its unconventional arms programs after the Persian Gulf war. Experts say that at the time, Mr. Hussein's scientists were on the verge of building an atom bomb, as little as a year away.

Here's where Jim Geraghty and his Brain The Size Of A Grain Of Rice come in. In a post at National Review, he asks:

I'm sorry, did the New York Times just put on the front page that IRAQ HAD A NUCLEAR WEAPONS PROGRAM AND WAS PLOTTING TO BUILD AN ATOMIC BOMB?




What's confused Mr. Grain of Rice Brain, of course, is the difference between what Iraq had done before the Gulf War in 1991 and twelve years later before the recent war.

Now, making this mistake is remarkably stupid to start with. Still, you can imagine that someone who knows nothing whatsoever about the subject could do so. Where Jim "My Brain Weighs Eight Milligrams" Geraghty really outdoes himself is going ahead and writing something about it. Because doing so required him to consider whether it was more likely that all these things were true --

1. The CIA spent $1 billion without finding any trace of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program.

2. The New York Times discovered Iraq actually had a nuclear weapons program a year away from a bomb and decided to reveal it in an ambiguously-worded sentence in paragraph 14 of a story about something else.

3. The Bush administration knows about this program and has modestly decided not to say anything about it.

-- or whether it was more likely he'd misunderstood something. And then decide it was the former.


Even better, he then takes the stupid foundation and builds a giant Mansion of Dumb on top of it. (Doesn't this incredible revelation mean that Joe Wilson has been proven completely wrong?!???)

But again, we shouldn't blame Mr. Geraghty. He's doing the best he can with his three neurons. In other times and places he would have lived a happy, simple life, whiling away the hours trying to milk chickens. The responsibility truly lies with the owners of National Review, who've plucked him out of his natural habitat.

In other words, it's the puppet-masters who matter, not the puppets. Although given Mr. Geraghty's performance here, that analogy is an insult to the intelligence of puppets.

EXTRA BONUS STUPID: While Jim Geraghty is Patient Zero, the Idiot Virus has spread here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and surely millions of other places thanks to this.

November 01, 2006

Just When You Think It Can't Get Any Stupider

In this new kind of war, we must be willing to question the enemy when we pick them up on the battlefield. (Applause.) We have captured people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who our intelligence community thinks was the mastermind of the September the 11th attacks. When we captured him, I said to the Central Intelligence Agency, why don't we find out what he knows in order to be able to protect America from another attack.

--George W. Bush, October 28, 2006

CIA Station, Islamabad, Pakistan. A CIA AGENT enters in a rush.

CIA AGENT: We captured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed!

CIA COMMANDER: That's great news. Now we must do what we've done with all captured enemies in 230 years of American history: refuse to question him.

CIA AGENT: Sir, permission to give Khalid Sheikh Mohammed a footrub? As has been done for all captured enemies in American history?

CIA COMMANDER: Permission granted, son! Also, if he mentions any upcoming attacks on America, put in your specially-designed CIA earplugs so you don't hear anything!


UNDERLING: Sir! The president has suggested that we find out what Khalid Sheikh Mohammed knows!

CIA COMMANDER: I don't understand. You mean -- the president has suggested that rather than actively making sure we don't learn anything from high-level enemies when we capture them, we should actually try to find out what they know?

UNDERLING: Yes sir! He says this is a new kind of war!

CIA COMMANDER: Dear god, that's brilliant! Only a maverick like our president could have conceived of such a bold scheme!